“Michael Clayton” is a slow burn, with an ending that delivers quite a punch. It’s the type of film that many love but doesn’t fit neatly into the modern economics of Hollywood. Studios rarely make dramas like this for broad theatrical release anymore.
George Clooney plays Michael Clayton, a middle-aged lawyer who works for a large law firm as its fixer. He cleans up messes for clients who get into trouble – stuff like accidents, domestic issues, etc. He’s also having his own problems as he tries to dig out of debt from a restaurant venture gone bad due to his alcoholic brother.
Clayton gets pulled into a crisis when the firm’s top litigator Arthur (Tom Wilkinson), threatens to blow up the firm’s largest case by exposing how the client chemical company (fictional U-North) knew its product was killing people. Arthur is a brilliant but troubled lawyer with mental health issues, He strips naked during a deposition while declaring his love for the lead plaintiff, a young, pretty woman from a farm in the Midwest.
The cast in this legal thriller is excellent. Clooney delivers one of his best performances as Michael, playing it straight and leaving aside the playful attitude we see in so many of his popular performances. He’s right out of central casting as the middle aged, big firm lawyer who is doing his best to remain calm as he deals with Arthur and his own issues.
Wilkinson, on the other hand, is brilliant as the manic Arthur who feels liberated by his decision to finally come clean about his client’s misconduct after grinding on the class-action lawsuit for years. He gives us some of the most memorable scenes of the film.
Downey, whose been nursing a sideline as a singer for years (he plays piano and writes songs, too) is maybe not such a surprise. If you’ve never seen him sing, here he is with his 80s sensibility fully intact from the end credits of “The Singing Detective.”
Clooney’s only actual onscreen singing I could find was from “Return of the Killer Tomatoes” and barely qualified as singing. (He is supposed to have sung a little bit in “Burn After Reading” but I don’t remember that.) The subject matter is political (Enron), so there’s that. Also, there’s no indication that Clooney has any thought of appearing or whether he’ll just produce and/or direct. On the other hand, we know he can mime nicely.
One thought. Fellow miming Smoky Mountain Boy John Turturro also took a shot at directing a movie musical with “Romance and Cigarettes.” Tim Blake Nelson, the third member of the trio, is also a film director. Guess it’s only a matter of time.
Okay, so David Russell is probably most famous in more gossipy quarters for his fistfight with George Clooney and his verbal meltdown with Lily Tomlin. However, he’s actually a consistently intriguing, extremely talented writer-director. His latest film appears to be a major change of pace — an entirely non-ironic fact-based boxing tale about “Irish” Mickey Ward and his ne’er do well brother, who I admittedly had never heard of until just now — which will no doubt invite perhaps inaccurate comparisons as some kind of real-life “Rocky” or a Boston “Raging Bull.” Mark Wahlberg, Amy Adams and very different Christian Bale star. (I didn’t even recognize Bale, who I imagine got along famously with fellow video tantrum throwing Russell, until late in the trailer. Impressive.)
And, what is it with tough Bostonians in the movies lately? I mean, aren’t there any other cities full of tough guys with interesting accents? Next time, filmmakers, considering setting your tales of betrayal and redemption on the mean streets of, I don’t know, Tacoma or Milwaukee. Meanwhile, excuse while I paak the cah in Bastan yahd.
Hey, we’ve got ourselves a modest surprise that diverges substantially from what I wrote back on Thursday night. Though the weekend is still ongoing, apparently, a lot of people didn’t get the memo that “The American” is a rather dry if eye-filling European-set arthouse style thriller, rather than the intelligent but plot-heavy action film a la the original “Day of the Jackal” they might have felt like seeing. That’s what the dreadful D- Cinemascore rating Nikki Finke is reporting would seem to indicate, in any case. Also, George Clooney‘s star power still counts for something. Even La Finke has stopped her bitter attacks on him.
Box Office Mojo reports that the “one last job” thriller about an assassin and gun-maker earned an estimated take of nearly $13 million. Finke has her estimated numbers a bit larger than that, and her guesses about the film’s total take including Labor Day and it’s early opening reflect that. (The estimate she has has the film making a total of 19.2 million.) Assuming all that’s true, it’s just possible that the adult-oriented thriller could outgross the roughly $32 million “Vampires Suck” has made so far, perhaps there is a movie God, but I wouldn’t bet on it. All of this is not to say that this weekend’s tongue-in-cheek Mexploitation geek fave starring the very cool Danny Trejo, “Machete,” did at all badly on this somewhat underwhelming weekend. It was outgrossed slightly by this weekend’s predicted #1 film, “Takers,” which netted an estimated $11.45 million in its second weekend. It’s $11.3 million really isn’t that bad, however even if it is ranked at #3. I don’t have a budget for the film, but Nikki Finke’s argumentative commenters were throwing around a $25 million figure — a bit high for Robert Rodriguez but quite cheap for a movie with this kind of all-star supporting cast, including Jessica Alba and Robert DeNiro. Considering the way movies like this tend to have a long and healthy life on DVD, that strikes me as a very good start. And that’s not counting the inevitable New Beverly Cinema double-bill with “Black Dynamite.”
“The Last Exorcism,” as predicted, suffered a large 62.5% drop in its second weekend, perhaps largely due to an ending most audience members hated, with an estimate of over $7.6 million. I’m convinced it was the vagueness of the premise that did in this week’s week’s third wide new release, “Going the Distance.” The raunch-infused rom-com came about Justin Long and Drew Barrymore having a long-distance relationship, I guess, wheezed across the finish line at the #5 spot with an estimate of slightly under $6.9 million. Yeah, I know, I wrote “6.9.” Grow up already.
Say what you will about this labor day weekend’s cinema offerings, you can’t complain that they haven’t covered the twin cinema poles of traditional gender preferences. For mega-manly geeks, Danny Trejo finally gets his big Hollywood close-up courtesy of Robert Rodriguez and “Machete.” For more refined males who like their action thrillers to be a bit more arthouse than grindhouse, we have the latest vehicle for George Clooney. Set in Italy, “The American” sounds as dry as a Bunuel martini’ and likely to be about as popular with the masses when set against the cinematic Long Island ice teas and daiquiris usually served during this time of year. Finally, we have a romantic comedy broadly (and, Dave Medsker says, awkwardly) spiked with raunchy gags, “Going the Distance,” testing the box office appeal of stars Drew Barrymore and relative newcomer Justin Long.
None of these movies are expected to burn up the box office. Jolly Carl DiOrio seems to figure that last week’s narrow box office winner, “Takers,” will take this weekend as well. (Presumably, the #2 “The Last Exorcism” is expected to suffer the usual large drop for horror pictures, exacerbated perhaps by disappointment in the film’s ending.) Still, assuming everyone kept their budget nice and low things shouldn’t be too disastrous. I’m guessing that director Rodriguez’s famed gift for squeezing his pennies combined with some support from the underserved and powerful Latino audiences as well as the geek-American community should assure a reasonably profitable outing for the the tongue-in-cheek quasi-parody, “Machete.” I’m feeling less confident for “Going the Distance,” which seems to suffer from a vague premise and marketing campaign. “The American,” which was released on Wednesday to no particular box office earthquake, is splitting critics in a way that makes me want to see it even more than I already do. In any case, it is almost inherently a small audience picture in a marketplace this strongly geared to younger viewers not known for their patience with thrillers stronger on atmosphere than action or plot. It’s title might be dull, too, but wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where it at least outgrossed “Vampires Suck”?